A Tool for Every Job
Have you ever seen that TV show The New Yankee Workshop? You know, the one that comes on Saturday afternoons with a smiling, bearded carpenter who can apparently make anything out of wood? I admit much of my childhood TV viewing was the result of boredom. I probably only know about this show because I wasn’t doing something else I should have been doing. But I did learn one thing from my few times watching it. If you have every single woodworking tool ever made you can pretty much make anything. I joke about the host throwing random scraps of wood into his “automatic cabinet making machine” and out comes perfectly crafted kitchen cupboards.
In truth, Norm Abram is an excellent carpenter who is skilled in his craft and knows what tools to use to accomplish a desired result. Likewise, God is a skilled craftsman who effectively uses a variety of instruments to develop His workmanship into Christ’s pattern.
God has a toolbox too, just like in the Yankee Workshop. He uses a variety of differing tools to accomplish the work He is doing in your life. Of course, God is not trying to craft perfect cabinetry, so what does the Bible tell us God is trying to accomplish in His children?
As the servant of God for the Gentiles, Paul saw the goal of his teaching and preaching to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). Through Paul, God was using the first of His primary tools to develop the attitudes, perspective, and desires of Christ in the believers. In Romans 8:29, we see the eternal purposes He is accomplishing in us to make us like Christ. In the expanded context of the surrounding verses (Rom. 8:28-30), God is active in the whole process we call sanctification. I could say more from passages such as Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 3:7-14, and I would encourage you to read them, but I’m sure you want to know what tools are in God’s toolbox. To perform the paramount task of forming Christ’s desires, attitudes, reactions, and feelings in us He may often reach for one of these three tools.
His Revealed Word
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12
God’s word is alive. It is not a dusty work of literature on a shelf. It is not a collection of fables designed to show us the moral value of kindness, cooperation, acceptance, contentment, etc. If that were all it is, we would still be powerless to develop those qualities in our lives in anything but a surface way. Because the Bible is alive it also has the ability to infuse our hearts with the power to do these things. Through the power of the gospel by faith we not only have instructions to live a certain way, but we have Christ in us living out His life (Gal. 2:20). The Bible is not a religious talisman granting its bearer special powers or warding off evil. The Holy Spirit illuminates the truth of the Word and applies it to each situation how it is needed. Most often preaching and individual reading are the methods of the Spirit.
Preaching is a Scriptural method of authoritative proclamation. Preaching is effective to the extent that the declaration is Biblical in content and points people toward Christ and the power and beauty of God. The power comes through the Spirit-illuminated Scripture as it is declared. The same power is not present in every public address. Scriptural preaching is not a TED talk. The goal is not merely informational; it’s transformational. The preaching of the Word of God, guided by the Spirit of God, exalting the Son of God is a major tool to transform the unbeliever and believer alike. See Paul’s example of this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
The Word a Mirror
Furthermore, disciples of Christ should read and study the Bible on their own. It cleans us (Ps. 119:9) and guides us when we’re on a dark path (Ps. 119:105). Paul’s protege, Timothy, was brought up in a family of faith where his mother and grandmother taught and guided him in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:3, 3:15). As a believer reads the Bible he sees in it the beauty of Jesus and is changed through that interaction. 2 Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
God has given us His revelation for a reason. He wants to use it in ours lives to craft us to be like Christ.
Trials of Faith
The testing of your faith produces patience… that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:3-4
This is a challenging one because we naturally desire an easy path. God knows that our growth and betterment are not best developed along the path of least resistance.
Case Study: Job
The book of Job gives us an incredible perspective behind the scenes on some of the most intense trials any Bible character faced. God allowed Job to experience almost unbelievable hardship. Through the trial Job did not even have the Bible to comfort or encourage him. In spite of that, Job’s dominant faith in God is astounding. Certainly we see Job eventually questioning God, but overall we would be challenged to come close to Job’s response. In chapter 23, Job admits he is searching for God but cannot find Him. He wants to bring his case before God as any of us probably would. God is not capricious. Job understands that God is rational and just. The sense of justice we bear as humans is not in opposition to God, it is dependent upon His being both righteous and just. However, God is always operating with a wise and complete knowledge of the elements, whereas our justice is limited to our understanding. But I love and admire the conclusion Job comes to despite his grief and doubts. God allowed Job to go into the crucible, but Job knew it would not be his end.
“But He knows that way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Followers of Jesus will face other hardships in life as well. Jesus told the Disciples the night before His crucifixion, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). John the Apostle states in his first letter, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you” (I John 3:13). Animosity from those who oppose God and oppose Christ should not be a startling reality to those who desire to follow God and Christ.
Peter addresses this issue thoroughly in his first letter. I Peter 1:6-9 is simply packed. Peter acknowledges the presence of trials without despair because he is able to understand by faith the great value God is producing through them. Ultimately nothing in the present can take away the expected fulfillment of all that God will bring to pass for the believer. Though today some materials top gold in price per ounce, universally humans have sought after and valued gold. Gold is precious and enduring; it does not decay or rust. The Scriptures teach us a different value system. Job saw God refining him like gold. Peter sees the reward of trials as more enduring and valuable than gold. James says God is working in our lives through trials in a way that will leave us in need of nothing.
…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:12-13
The last tool in God’s toolbox that we will look at is the Body of Christ, the church. Ephesians 5:23-33 teaches us some incredible things about Christ’s relation to the church. Christ is the authority and Savior of the church (vs. 23). He loved and gave Himself for it (vs. 25). He is transforming and cleansing it by His Word (vs. 26). He will receive it as beautiful and holy (vs. 27). He provides for its health and growth and treasures it (vs. 29). Last, believers are integral members of Christ (vs. 30). The church is clearly important to Christ, and believers should connect with God’s plan in the body. Unfortunately, many believers in Christ do not make the church a top priority in their lives. (See my previous article for a more in depth explanation of a Biblical church and some common misconceptions.)
No Man is an Island. -John Donne
Ephesians 4:12-13 is expressing the intended result of the gift of leadership. God intends for the individual members of the church to be prepared to serve one another, their communities, and the world. In so doing they will be building up, or edifying, the whole gathering. This is supposed to be an ongoing process until every believer grows up into the character of Christ. Apart from showcasing the wisdom and grace of God (Eph. 3:10), the church is the training ground for believers. It is the platform for discipleship and mission.
1 Corinthians 12 expounds how God’s Spirit gives all the different members of the church various gifts for the mutual benefit of everyone. I love what verse 11 says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” In this environment believers are learning from one another, encouraging one another, and serving one another through the Spirit. The church, the body of Christ made up of individual followers of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), is a major instrument that God uses to develop His children and to make them holy as He is Holy (I Peter 1:15).
Discipling God’s Way
When we realize the methods God is using to develop people, it allows us to work effectively alongside Him instead of against Him. Rather than looking for new or different ways to transfer information we should put God’s word in front of people for their transformation. While none of us enjoys the trial while it is happening, as we realize God’s purposes through it we can thank Him for it. Furthermore, we are then able to use what God has taught us to help others in similar trials. One positive outcome of facing trials is that we will be able to extend God’s comfort to others also. See 2 Corinthians 1:4, “who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Finally, God wants to put every follower of Christ in a meaningful position of service within a body of believers. Knowing this, we ourselves will be more committed to the body of Christ and will work toward developing every member to use the gifts of the Spirit (Eph. 4:16).
While these are not the only ways God works in our lives, they are significant Biblical methods of sanctification. God’s Spirit is at work, and we get to be a part of what He is doing. We need His word in our lives daily showing us His wisdom and character and transforming us into His image. God is redeeming the trials we face to make us better and more useful for His glory. And together with our fellow believers we are unified in the gospel with the church for which Christ died.